Danville works on $6 million grant for high school

Danville works on $6 million grant for high school

DANVILLE — While not sold on every component, Danville school board and community members said they generally like the district's grant proposal for up to $6 million in federal funding to significantly improve student learning and achievement at the high school.

"I think it's an exciting and much-needed program," said Alice Payne, the executive director of the Laura Lee Fellowship House and a retired district administrator. "I think it's something we should go after."

Danville High Assistant Principal Phil Cox and Sharon Desmoulin-Kharat, the district's incoming associate superintendent, presented the proposal for a school improvement grant at a study session on Wednesday. A grant committee of administrators, teachers and community members will continue working on it at 7:30 a.m. Friday at the Jackson Building, and they welcomed more input from the community.

The competitive grant, administered through the Illinois State Board of Education, targets under-performing schools in Illinois that are committed to implementing a bold initiative to raise achievement in a meaningful way. Local officials learned the high school qualified for the chance to apply in mid-February.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to make transformational change," said Cox, who takes over as principal on July 1.

He said some of the main goals and strategies are things school staff have been talking about about doing for the past year to build on the success of houses, or small learning communities, and their innovative teaching models, but lacked the funding to put in place. If successful, the school could receive up to $2 million a year over the next three years to carry out the plan.

"This gives us the ability to provide additional support without using district funds," Cox said.

The plan focuses on learning and results and aligns with goals and objectives in the district's long-term strategic plan. The three major initiatives call for implementing a guaranteed and viable curriculum that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and focused on ensuring that students are college and career ready; developing a classroom and school-wide system of academic behavioral interventions and supports; and using data to drive both instruction and professional development.

The grant requires that the school increase learning time for all students, increase professional development and offering incentives to teachers and staff for meeting certain goals and to work with a lead partner to help implement the grant and professional development components. Danville has chosen the nonprofit Consortium for Educational Change, which has worked with many schools on the same thing.

"Their focus is to build staff capacity so our staff is working wiser," Cox said, adding staff will learn how to teach literacy skills in their content area, differentiate instruction and use the data from common assessments to drive instruction and then take that knowledge with them.

Cox and Desmoulin-Kharat also outlined the programmatic requirements including creating common assessments aligned to Common Core standards, developing common exit standards for core classes, creating a 30-minute enrichment period by combining the 15-minute homeroom period with an extra 15 minutes to provide focused interventions on reading and math for students who are falling behind, and enrichment activities for those who aren't. They also include offering summer school to help ninth-graders catch up in reading and math, offering ninth-graders who are behind an extra period of reading or math and requiring students who don't score well on the WorkKeys test (part of the state's standardized test for juniors) to pass a senior seminar course to improve their math or literacy skills in order to graduate.

The grant will fund several new positions, which officials said, are vital to the plan's implementation. They include a transformation officer, a behavioral interventionist, a data analyst and lead teachers, who would receive a stipend and teach one less class to coach peers. In addition, the lead partner also will provide a full-time position at the high school.

Board President Bill Dobbles said he liked 90 percent of the proposal. However, he doubts whether the extra 30-minute period will do what it's intended to do, and he doesn't want to see the best teachers, who presumably will be tapped as teacher leaders, pulled from the classrooms.

Johnnie Carey, a former district administrator, said it's important to include high school students who attend the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy in the plan. Desmoulin-Kherat assured that teachers would be able to participate in on professional development,

The application, is due April 30, and the grant begins on July 1. The board will consider whether to submit it next week.

"Our plan is to have every piece in place so once we hear, we can hit the ground running," Cox said.

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